Judge Dismisses Disney Lawsuit Against Florida Governor, Raises Questions About Corporate Power and Government Oversight

In a recent ruling, Judge Allen Winsor of the U.S. District Court for Northern Florida dismissed a lawsuit filed by Disney against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The lawsuit was in response to changes made by the state legislature to Disney’s former special district, which Disney argued were unconstitutional.

Judge Winsor ruled that Disney “lacks standing to sue the governor” and that the law in question was constitutional.[0] He also noted that the changes made to Disney’s special district worked to the company’s detriment because it now faces land use decisions by a board over which it has no control.[1]

The dismissal stated that Disney “lacks standing to sue the Governor or the Secretary” and “offers no support for its argument.”[2] The judge’s ruling was based on the lack of injury demonstrated by Disney and the fact that a constitutional law cannot be alleged to violate the First Amendment.[3]

Governor DeSantis’s spokesperson, Jeremy Redfern, celebrated the ruling, stating that it ends Disney’s attempts to control its own special government and receive benefits not available to other businesses in the state.[4] Redfern emphasized that Disney is now just one of many corporations in Florida and does not have the right to its own special government.

However, Disney has vowed to appeal the decision, stating that it has serious implications for the rule of law. The company argues that if left unchallenged, the ruling could set a dangerous precedent and allow states to use their official powers to punish political viewpoints they disagree with.[5]

The feud between Disney and Governor DeSantis began after Disney’s CEO opposed the Parental Rights in Education Act, also known as the “don’t say gay” bill.[0] Disney alleges that the state targeted the company in retaliation for speaking out against the legislation.[2]

The lawsuit centered around the changes made to the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which previously gave Disney governing power over its theme parks.[6] The Florida legislature transferred that power to a new government entity, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD), appointed by Governor DeSantis.[7]

Disney claimed that the termination of the Reedy Creek Improvement District was an act of retaliation and violated the First Amendment.[7] The company also argued that the CFTOD subsequently violated state law and federal contracts by abrogating long-term contracts made with the previous district.[7]

In his ruling, Judge Winsor stated that Disney had not shown specific actions taken by the new board or any specific injury resulting from their actions.[8] He also emphasized that Disney’s alleged injury was due to operating under a board it could not control, which would exist regardless of the governor’s influence.[3]

Attorneys for the CFTOD board argued that Disney’s lawsuit was an assault on the constitutional order and that the previous special district had given the company de facto authority to govern itself.

The court ultimately found that Disney lacked standing to sue the governor and that the statute in question was constitutional. This means that Disney cannot bring a free speech challenge against the lawmakers who passed the law.[6] The court ruled that Florida’s legislature has the authority to determine the structure of special improvement districts.[6]

Disney’s lawsuit has now been dismissed, but the company plans to appeal the decision. The court’s ruling has significant implications for the relationship between corporations and state governments, as well as the ability of states to regulate and oversee special districts. The outcome of the appeal will determine whether Disney’s concerns about the rule of law and political expression will be addressed.

0. “DeSantis wins as judge dismisses Disney’s lawsuit against him” BBC.com, 31 Jan. 2024, https://www.bbc.com/news/business-68157268

1. “Judge dismisses Disney suit against DeSantis over special tax district” The Washington Post, 31 Jan. 2024, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2024/01/31/disney-desantis-florida-lawsuit-gay

2. “Disney, DeSantis lawsuit: Lawsuit against governor dismissed” WESH 2 Orlando, 31 Jan. 2024, https://www.wesh.com/article/disney-lawsuit-desantis-dismissed/46598715

3. “Disney vs. DeSantis Dismissed” Disney Tourist Blog, 31 Jan. 2024, https://www.disneytouristblog.com/disney-vs-desantis-dismissed/

4. “Judge Tosses Disney Lawsuit, Greenlights Ron DeSantis Retaliation” The New Republic, 31 Jan. 2024, https://newrepublic.com/post/178619/judge-tosses-disney-lawsuit-ron-desantis-retaliation

5. “Disney Vs. DeSantis: House Of Mouse Loses First Amendment Battle With Florida Governor – Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS)” Benzinga, 31 Jan. 2024, https://www.benzinga.com/general/entertainment/24/01/36879795/disney-vs-desantis-house-of-mouse-loses-first-amendment-battle-with-florida-governor

6. “Disney Lawsuit Against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Dismissed By Judge” Hollywood Reporter, 31 Jan. 2024, https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/business/business-news/disney-lawsuit-against-florida-gov-ron-desantis-special-district-dismissed-1235811663/

7. “Disney Loses Its First Amendment Lawsuit against Ron DeSantis” National Review, 31 Jan. 2024, https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/disney-loses-its-first-amendment-lawsuit-against-ron-desantis

8. “Disney lawsuit against Ron DeSantis dismissed by judge” Axios, 31 Jan. 2024, https://www.axios.com/2024/01/31/disney-desantis-lawsuit-dismissed

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